After Bryce Harper‘s first six games in the Arizona Fall League — 2-for-23 (.087), one RBI and no extra base hits — the “I told you so’s” from every skeptic around baseball started to ring loud. This after hitting .256 with three home runs, 12 RBIs and a .724 OPS in 37 games at double-A Harrisburg. Nevermind that he was the youngest player in the league, or that he destroyed class-A pitching, hitting .318 with 17 doubles, 14 home runs, 46 RBIs, 19 stolen bases and a .977 OPS in 72 games, while also being one of the youngest players in that league. He was supposed to do that.
That’s life when you are better than everyone else, drop out of high school to enroll at a junior college, win player of the year honors as a freshman, set a bunch of school records, become the No.1 pick in the draft and say you want to hit .430 and be the best who ever played the game.
Some people tend to root against you.
Harper’s confidence may be his greatest ability, however. He loves the spotlight, and when it is at its brightest, he outshines it. Like in last year’s Western Sectional finals when he went 14-for-18 with three doubles, two triples, five home runs and 18 RBIs in three games, including a six-for-six, four-HR, 10-RBI effort in the second game of a doubleheader. Of course, his cockiness may be his biggest liability as he was ejected and suspended for two games after that display. His team lost both games and was eliminated from the postseason.
Attitude can be corrected. You can’t teach confidence, however; you either have it or you don’t. The main reason one finds himself in a slump is lost confidence. You go 0-for-4 one day, then another, and all of a sudden, you start to lose confidence in your abilities. You become less aggressive at the plate, develop hitches in your swing, lose your timing and everything starts to fall apart mechanically. Harper is the kind of player who won’t go into many slumps because of his supreme confidence in his abilities.
So yeah, Harper had a bad opening week in Arizona. But he shrugged it off, and while most people ease out of a slump, Harper explodes. In his past eight games, he is 12-for-31 (.387) with two doubles, one triple, three home runs, 15 RBIs and a 1.375 OPS. He has homered in three consecutive games and has driven in 10 of those 15 RBI in that span. He suddenly is fifth in HRs and RBIs and just getting started. And he still is one of the youngest players in the league.
Harper is going to be a beast at the next level. Those who doubt him are mostly the purists who have a problem with the way he carries himself. Is he arrogant? Yes. Cocky? You better believe it. But he also is one of the most talented players to come around in recent memory. Without a doubt.
People loved to hate Barry Bonds, even before steroids. Yet everyone watched his at-bats and bought tickets to see him play. Harper could be the sport’s next villain, as early as next season. People will root against him and want to see him fail. But everyone will watch his at-bats and pay to see him play, even the purists. And that’s exactly the way he wants it.